AN: I had this idea just today as I washed dishes and decided I had to try to flesh it out and put it on paper, inspired by the thought that everyone seems to forget about James, who also died for Harry. Anyway, I'm pretty sure some canon events will be changed in this story. This'll be a short story, each chapter (maybe only 3 in total) being about this length.
"James, it's time to put Harry to bed."
"In a minute." James called over his shoulder before turning back to his son, who was squealing and laughing as if there was no tomorrow as he lifted him up in the air, his tiny arms flailing about. "You like flying Harry?" James asked with a titanic smile as he sat up from his couch and lifted Harry over his head, his little baby's squeals of delight increasing as he did so. "Wooooooosh!" He gently moved Harry in a wide sweeping turn, "Woooooosh!" he led Harry into a slow ascent, "Woooooooosh!" he brought down baby Harry into a soft landing on the couch before an idea sprung into his mind. "Accio broom!" he called out, one of Lilly's normal Muggle non-flying brooms suddenly coming into his grasp. He muttered a spell to magically shrink down the broom and handed it to Harry, who immediately began swinging it around as hard as he could, one of his wings tapping James on the nose before he went off on another flight. Harry quickly began imitating his father and began to move the broom along with his own movements.
"You love flying don't you?" James said as he continued to carry Harry about the room, "Maybe you'll be a great Quidditch player someday, maybe you'll be a top Chaser like your good ol' dad?"
Harry squealed in response.
James laughed and blew a raspberry in Harry's stomach, the tiny baby's arms swinging about as he laughed. "You love playing with your dad?" James asked.
Harry squealed again before attempting to chew on the miniaturized broom.
"I'll take that as a yes," James said.
"You've got him started already," a musical voice said from behind him, James turning to gaze at his beautiful redheaded wife, "Soon, he'll be doing nothing but breathing, eating and talking Quidditch."
"Of course he will," James said as he handed Harry over to Lily before giving his wife a quick peck on the lips, "Good night little guy." James said as he played with Harry's hand before noticing a sad look cross Lily's face. "What's wrong?"
She turned to face him, her green eyes full of worry. "He'll get that chance to play Quidditch won't he?"
James understood what she meant, he nodded slowly. "Yes, he'll get that chance. To play Quidditch and more." Lily nodded at his words and slipped her slender hand into his before giving him a significant look. They both knew Voldemort was after them, they both knew that Pettigrew had gone missing-no one else had noticed, but Pettigrew was supposed to be checking in regularly-and both knew that today held magical significance in several of the old religions. If Voldemort were to ever make his move it'd be tonight. They knew all about this.
They also knew what they had to do to protect Harry.
They'd found the ritual in one of James' libraries back at the ancestral family manor, in an old book that had been passed down through the Potter family line about defensive spells, charms, runes and rituals. It had been created by some ancestor generations ago when he was going through a similar situation, though he never finished the entire formula for the ritual since he was able to avert the entire situation and save his fiancé, who showed up as his wife on the family tree. They'd read and reread, expanded on the original incomplete formula and refined it, planned and practiced and psyched themselves up for what had to be done to make sure that their pride and joy, their little guy, their baby and most important person, would live and stay safe in a world free from the foul bigotry of Voldemort and his followers. One of them would have to go first, something told him that he'd be the first, to start the ritual, to begin the protection. Then one of them would go next to set up the final part of the ritual, Lily would do this, she'd get to hold their baby for the last and final time. Then Voldemort would have to play his part-as they both knew he would-and ensure that Harry would be safe. They both knew that to keep Harry alive they'd both have to die. Fatherhood was hard sometimes.
The silence between him and Lily was broken when Harry started fussing.
"Hey, there's no reason to put him to bed so early is there?" James asked, his voice coming out unevenly.
"You are right. You hear that Harry?" Lily said as she tried to fight back tears, bouncing Harry in an effort to keep him from crying. "Let's all go into the living room and play for a bit. Or do you want to go to sleep?"
Harry squealed and laughed, his arms flailing out in James' direction, his little chubby baby hands opening and closing repeatedly.
"Yes!" James cheered as he plucked Harry from his mother's embrace and began to lift him up as high as he could, Harry enjoying his game of flight. "Wooooosh!" He flew Harry about the living room as Lily sat down beside him and laughed before speaking up.
"You know, you are a wizard. You could make him fly for real."
"That's dangerous," James said, "And I don-"
"Please," Lily cut him off, "I know you and Sirius have cast Levitation charms on him before and I know he enjoys it." She sighed, her shoulders slumping a bit. "Let him fly, I'll cast Cushioning charms on him too."
James just grinned before pulling his wand out, "Wingardium Leviosa," he chanted as he pointed his wand at Harry, the little baby happily laughing as he started floating about the room. "Wooooosh," he levitated Harry across the room, "Zooooom" he turned Harry around before he bumped into a nearby wall, "Vrooooom," he said as he made him dive by his mother.
"Not so fast," Lily chided, though she was obviously enjoying watching her son fly about the room in nothing but his nappies. "Just because a bump won't hurt him because of the charms doesn't mean he can't get dizzy. And vroom is the sound cars make, not airplanes."
"Oh," James responded, "Sorry, I still get them mixed up sometimes." He put an arm around Lily and drew her in closely, inhaling the smell of her shampoo. He suddenly regretted the fact that they'd never taken a trip on a Muggle airplane, they sounded wonderful from what Lily had said. His thoughts were broken when he suddenly saw one of Harry's stuffed animals fly alongside him. He turned to look at his wife who was badly suppressing a grin.
"What?" She asked innocently, "I thought Harry could use some company up there and what better company than that silly owl toy Hagrid gave him a few months ago?" She waved her wand around and controlled the animated owl's actions, flying it around Harry and occasionally landing it on his head before Harry grabbed it by a wing and simply began flapping his arms wildly about. "He loves that owl." Lily whispered. "Do you think he'll have lots of friends?"
"I'm sure he will," James replied easily. "I think he'll be a charmer and a ladies man, just like me."
Lily scoffed and shook her head. "I hope he doesn't get any of your big ego. Don't forget that you aren't all you make yourself to be Mr. Potter, strutting about Hogwarts as if you were God's gift to women."
"Well, you certainly seem to think I am." James teased right back, giving his wife what he thought was a heart melting grin.
Lily simply huffed in response, "Please, your kissing is satisfactory at best." She then turned and gave him a saucy smile before giving him a quick kiss. "Though I can't disagree with you, I hope he meets the right girl someday, a smart level-headed girl." She sighed and looked up at Harry, who was laughing so much it seemed almost as if his flight was powered by laughter, a trail of spit hanging out of his mouth and trailing behind him in the air. "But I also hope he studies hard. It'd be nice to if he could get a Muggle education too. He could become a Healer or a doctor, a lawyer or a Rune Master…"
"Or a Quidditch pro or an Auror like me." James responded. "I bet he'll get into all sorts of trouble like I used to."
"You think so?" Lily asked, her head resting on his shoulder. "I hope not. I hope he doesn't cause Professor McGonagall any trouble."
"Professor McGonagall? You think he'll be in Gryffindor?"
"Of course, though I wouldn't mind if he were in Ravenclaw."
"Nah," James shrugged, "Gryffindor for sure. But I think you are worrying too much love, I'm sure he'll be fine in whatever he does, I'm positive he'll be fine."
He lowered his wand and brought Harry back into Lily's embrace, his redheaded wife immediately latching onto their young baby as fast as she could. There was a long, long silence as Lily buried her face against Harry's tiny body, James meeting Harry's eyes over his mother's shoulder as she silently cried before joining the family hug. He hugged the two of them as tightly as he could as he realized that it was getting late and this was likely to be their last few moments together.
"We love you Harry," Lily's voice was surprisingly strong, "We love you so much." She placed a long kiss on his little forehead which caused him to laugh and clutch at his mother's long red hair. "We'll always be with you."
"It's true," James said as he stroked Lily's hair, Harry trying to eat the locks of hair he had clutched in his hand. "We love you. Always will." He wrapped his arms around Lily and motioned her to stand up, signaling that it was time to go. "Come on love, let's put him to sleep."
"I don't want to." Lily whispered, "I don't want to… It'd probably be better if he was asleep right?"
James nodded. "It would…. I don't want him to see. Maybe put a Deep Sleep Charm on him?" He gave them one last squeeze before walking the two of them to the stairs, "Go on, I'll be up in-"
Somewhere they heard a sound of thunder. The wards that defended their home were being attacked. James turned to look at Lily, a look on her face that made his heart drop. "Lily, it's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off..." he paused, knowing that what he had to do and what she had to do. "I love you Lily." He then looked at his little bundle of joy, black hair and green eyes and so young and innocent. "I love you Harry."
"I love you James." Lily proclaimed as she took a step forward before they heard the sound of a thousand mirrors suddenly being smashed open, the sound that told them the wards around their house had fallen. "I'll see you later." She then turned around and ran up the stairs, disappearing from view as James turned around and stared at the front door. He took a deep breath as he clenched his hands into fists and realized he had left his wand in the living room. He didn't have the chance to turn and head into the living room where he'd left his wand as the front door was suddenly blown in half, splinters flying everywhere, and Voldemort stepped through, his wand leading the way as it glowed a deadly green.
"Voldemort," James replied with a calm tone as he brushed splinters off of himself. "Come to get your face kicked in?" He saw Voldemort's eyes travel down to his hands, wandless, and then back to meet his gaze. Voldemort simply smiled as he raised his wand and pointed it at James, "Avada Kedavra!" James ducked and lunged forward, all the skin on his back going numb as the curse sailed over him and tore a large hole in a nearby wall. James didn't miss a beat and used the sudden opportunity to close in on Voldemort and threw a punch straight into the madman's face, blood spewing out of a burst lip. He then sidestepped a sweeping wand movement that sent a spell into his shoulder, a large gash appearing where it hit, and threw a punch straight into Voldemort's gut. He was about to follow up with another punch when all the wind was knocked out of him as he was slammed against a nearby wall, held up by magical forces from Voldemort's wand.
"You've spent too much time with the mudblood," Voldemort began as blood trickled down his chin. "You fight like one, like a vermin with tooth and nail. You disgust me Potter," he spat, "A Pureblood degrading himself with a mudblood, breeding tra-"
James didn't let Voldemort finish his sentence, he saw Voldemort move too closely to him and realized that his face was just within kicking distance. Through his boot he felt teeth being kicked in, the blow causing Voldemort to stumble backwards and release him from his magical grip, James falling to the floor with a heavy thud. He was about to stand when Voldemort, still lying on the floor, fired off a Bludgeoning Curse that hit him square in the chest, knocking all the wind out of his lungs. He could do nothing but gasp for breath and watch as Voldemort made his way over to him, his mouth a bloody mess.
"Fine," he said, bloody spittle flying out of his mouth and landing on James' face. "You would have been great by my side, instead you betrayed your kind." He raised his wand, the Killing Curse forming at the end of its tip.
"I told you once," James began once he was able to catch his breath, his gaze locked on Voldemort with the utmost defiance written across his features. "That I'd rather die than be one of your bootlickers," he spit on Voldemort's shoes for effect. "If you came to hear me beg, you will be disappointed."
James stared up at Voldemort, unflinchingly and gave him his best glare. He wouldn't be broken, couldn't be broken. There was nothing Voldemort had over him. Lily, he knew, would be seeing him soon. Harry, he knew and hoped, would be safe. He smiled, Voldemort temporarily pausing at the sight, and knew that Harry would be fine.
And then he died in a flash of green.
But something had gone wrong.
He hadn't moved on as he thought he would have. It was common enough in the wizarding world, and in the Muggle world too, for ghosts to form after a person's soul stuck around because of some unresolved business, stubbornness or some traumatic event that forced them to stay a ghost until they were able to accept their death and let go. But he wasn't a ghost, no one could see or hear him, he didn't even exhibit the typical ghost effects of sending shivers down a person's back if he touched or flew threw them, neither did he drop the ambient temperatures of any rooms he was in. After a few days of wondering and pondering, he concluded that he was in Limbo. It wasn't too bad actually, of course he would have loved to have been with Lily in whatever land the dead went off to, but getting the chance to see Harry grow up would be wonderful. So he floated around and looked over Harry as he was carted off by Hagrid and landed on the Dursley's doorstep.
"That makes sense," he thought, "To put him with his closest relatives while this all dies down."
The Dursleys. It was infuriating g that neither of them seemed too distraught over the news of their deaths, James knew they both hated magic and he had never really gotten along with Vernon after that incident at one of Lily's family gatherings, Petunia always seemed to look down on him. That was fine, he didn't really care for them and only put up with them for Lily's sake. But not one of them shed any tears for Lily. Not even Petunia, her own sister. And it seemed that some of that frostiness had transferred over to Harry, they didn't pay any more attention to him than was absolutely required. Feeding and changing his diapers. They didn't talk to him, they didn't hug or carry him, they let him cry himself tired whenever he was fussy. James could do nothing but grit his teeth and bear it, it would only be a few days before Albus arrived and brought Sirius and Remus with him and Harry would be out of here. Only a few days. In the meantime he desperately tried to talk to Harry, to try to tell him that he was still there with him and that he wasn't alone and smiled on the few times when it seemed as if he had heard him.
Nothing else made him smile though, because as time started wearing on he didn't have much to smile about besides Harry. Not Vernon and Petunia's cold attitude towards Harry, not the fact that Albus didn't return the next week and the next, not the fact that neither Sirius nor Remus showed up to take Harry as he and Lily had intended, not the fact that no Ministry employees appeared to check up on him and get that nasty looking scar checked out-he felt heartbroken to see his little baby with such a nasty scar on his tiny forehead-and take him to Mungo's to check him out for any residual injuries or spell damage. The first week he could understand, maybe the wizarding world was still in turmoil, he couldn't tell since he didn't dare leave Harry's side, and the government didn't want to send any delegation here for fear of giving away Harry's hiding spot. That made some sense. The first month… well the war was costly, and really what danger was Harry in? Sure the Dursleys weren't exactly showering Harry with love and joy but, well they were taking care of him. Surely Albus, Sirius and Remus were just finishing up the last of the Death Eaters and maybe finishing whatever repairs the wizarding world needed before heading here.
Any day now.
And then Albus arrived.
Vernon and Petunia started yelling at Albus for not staying in touch or giving them any news on when Harry would be taken off to "their" world by Sirius or Remus-though they referred to his best friends in less than pleasant terms-and generally acted as impossibly unpleasant hosts towards Albus. Albus, always being Albus, was patient with them and didn't rise to any of their insults and instead patiently told them the situation that had kept him tied up and none of it was good. Sirius was in Azkaban, charged with betraying Harry's parents to Voldemort and Remus had disappeared, though Albus wasn't entirely clear or sure as to why. As Albus continued to explain why neither of the two had shown up to find Harry James' mind was working in overdrive as he thought about any sort of evidence that they had left behind that could prove that Peter was the Secret Keeper, that Sirius was magically incapable of betraying them because he simply did not know the secret. He was slowly beginning to realize that no such evidence existed when he heard another bombshell.
Harry was staying with the Dursleys. Forever.
It was like some bad joke, James almost expected to wake up out and Sirius and Remus yell out "Got you!" and explain that he was actually having some fever dream induced by Sleeping Potions. Not a single thing about it made sense. Sirius he could understand, he was imprisoned and could not take Harry until he was cleared, Remus was gone… somewhere. Ok fine. Why couldn't the Longbottoms take Harry in? He always got along with little Neville so why not? If not them why not Lily's parents? Or the Tonks, or the Goldensmiths? Why not Albus himself? There was a whole list of people in that had agreed to take care of Harry in case something happened to them, all of them listed on their wills. A sinking feeling started forming in James' non-corporeal body, could it have been possible that everyone was gone? What had happened to the world he knew?
Of course then Albus explained why. It didn't help James' rapidly deteriorating mood that Albus had no clue, not a single damn clue, what he was talking about. His entire explanation made no sense, how could it given that Albus did not even know what ritual had been used? No one besides him and Lily could possibly know given that they had left no notes on the ritual behind to ensure no one could work the ritual backwards and undo their protection on Harry, Albus was simply extrapolating based off of much simpler and easier familial protection magic and even then he was completely wrong. Vernon and Petunia could not recharge the protection on Harry any more than any random person off of the street, it simply did not work that way, if it did work like that then magicals with large families would be nigh impossible to kill, something which was simply not true. Even if the protection did work that way, Harry was not safe in the house of people who were completely unable to fight of anyone with even basic magical dueling skills, Harry's protection did not create any sort of blood wards around the Dursley's home, absolutely nothing stopped any remaining Death Eaters from learning Harry's position and simply waltzing in here and stealing him away. As Albus explained all of this James tried his hardest to yell and scream or cast some magic to get the old wizard's attention, pointing out that Harry could just as easily be hidden with a Fidelus Charm if he absolutely required safety, but all of his efforts were in vain as not a single thing happened beside Harry waking up and crying in the upstairs room. Minutes of fruitless yelling later James finally gave up, his shoulders slumping and his arms handing limply at his sides. He floated his way back up to the room Harry was being left in, a lonely room that they had been using as storage before looking over the fussing Harry.
"It's ok Harry, it's ok."
Harry continued to cry and wail.
"It'll be alright, I'll find you a way out of this."